Symposium on Language and Perception

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Nov 29, 2013 (4 years and 7 months ago)


Symposium on Language and Perception

How does language affect what are normally considered to be lower
level perceptual and
motor processes?

Is language best conceptualized as a symbolic system in which terms derive all of their
meaning from their relations to one another?

How does the language we acquire augment our ability to represent, reason about, and
computationally process our world?

How do our perceptual abilities shape language processes normally considered to be
arbitrary or ungrounded?

How much of our language is perceptually grounded? How else can elements of our
language get their meaning?

How are the various components of language (word meanings, sounds, and grammatical
constructions) influenced by perceptual and action processes?

How do these same components influence perceptual and conceptual processes?

Indiana University Monday, April 4, 2005, 12:00
2:00 PM Dogwood Room, Indiana Memorial Union


Lera Boroditsky,
Assistant Professor of Psychology, Stanford University

Stevan Harnad,
Canada Research Chair and Professor,

Université du Québec à Montréal

Linda Smith,
Chancellor’s Professor of Psychology, Indiana University

> Perception


> Language

Does what we

determine what we

Or does what we

determine what we

(Let’s C…)

Stevan Harnad

U. du Québec à Montreal

1. Commensurability

the fundamental question of whether
it can be said that the objective
shape of things in the world
"resembles" the shape of their
subjective appearance in our minds
at all, rather than just being


with it: e.g.,
how/why does bigger sound

amplitude resemble sounding
louder, rather than softer, or for that

matter, greener? how/why does
looking curved resemble being

2. Constructivism/Coherence/Consistency

the notion that what things

look like

the shape of their
subjective appearance

something we "construct", by social
convention, culturally, or arbitrarily,
with perhaps the only constraint
being that the construction should
be consistent or coherent with itself

3. Congruity/Conformity

the notion that what things


the shape of their appearance

congruent with the shape of what
they really

like: that the
subjective "shape" of appearances,
not being constructed by culture,
simply conforms to the objective
shape of things in reality

4. Correlation

the empirical fact

measurable through psychophysics
and adaptive behavior

that there is

(which is not the same
as a congruity) between the real
shape of things and the shape of our
behavior in response to them: we
reliably call more "more," and act

5. Conformity/Constraint

the notion that the shape of

appearances is merely

by the shape of reality [and logic], at
least inasmuch as I/O correlation
and adaptive behavior are
concerned: i.e., apart from whatever
"more" may look/feel like,
subjectively, we should feel as if
more feels like more, rather than
like less, and (more important) we
should reliably

in conformity
with that constraint (e.g., running
more from a bigger threat, etc.)

6. Communication

language, when we describe the shape
of things to one another, can
sometimes convey their objective
shape faithfully, to an approximation
[e.g., "a circle is a set of points
equidistant from its center" or "she is
the one with the hat"], and it can also
sometimes bias its subjective shape, to
a degree [e.g., "there is cynicism
behind that smile", ”all El Greco
subjects are distorted”]

7. Computation

the fact that [just about] all objective shapes are
informally describable in language and are even
formally computable does not mean that


i.e., whatever goes on in our heads in between input
and output

is just
: computation is
symbol manipulation; symbol shapes are arbitrary
(in relation to the shapes of the things the symbols
are about), so the meanings of the symbols have to
be grounded in something more than just further
symbols and symbol
manipulations (this is the

grounding problem

8. Corporality

the fact that the subjective shape of
things is determined in part by the
objective shape of our bodies (e.g.,
one property of chairs is that they

afford sittability
upon) means that
some cognition is


9. Categorization

to a great extent, cognition amounts
to whatever is going on in our heads
that gives us the capacity to know or
learn how to do the

of things

with the

of things we
do it with: everything from sitting
on them to manipulating, naming
and describing them:
to cognize is to

10. Correction/Consequences

to have and know a category, there has to be a right or wrong
of the matter, there have to be consequences of

that can serve as a reliable corrective to
guide future correct categorization; there are behavioral

too, where more/less is right, rather than all/none;
but categorization concerns all/none

i.e., categorical

behavior; and where there is no possibility of error, no
objective consequences of miscategorization, there are no
categories, only arbitrary and incontrovertible subjectivity
(Wittgenstein’s “private language”), hermeneutics, or free
floating metaphor (because everything resembles everything
else, to an infinite degree, if freed of objective constraints
and consequences)

11. Concreteness

all categorization is abstraction: selectively hewing

to some properties of the kind of thing categorized,
ignoring others; all categories are hence abstract;
types are always more abstract than their tokens;
concreteness hence really refers only to how much
sensorimotor experience is directly involved in the

categorization: "red" is more concrete than "color"
and "color" is more concrete than "property", but all
categories, even those based purely on verbal hearsay,
must be recursively grounded, bottom
up, in
sensorimotor categories

12. Context/Confusability

both categories and their invariant properties are
(and often also provisional and approximate): the properties that
distinguish members from non
members depend on what proves to
be reliably invariant in the range of variation the categorizer has
sampled and from which he must, based on the consequences of
miscategorization, successfully generalize to categorize future
instances: "What is an X?" "Compared to what?”: category invariants
are whatever features are

to reliably resolve the
confusability between members and nonmembers (i.e., there isn’t and
never was anything wrong with the “classical theory” of
categorization! whether the invariants prove to be conjunctive,
disjunctive, monadic, polyadic, conditional, constructive,
computational, deformational or statistical

they must

and be

if categorization is to succeed, and hence they must be

13. Compression

in selectively detecting/attending to some properties and
ignoring others, categorization results in a compression
["warping", "Whorfing"] of appearances in similarity space,
making the subjective shapes of members of the same category
resemble one another more, and resemble the shapes of
members of other categories less; this is sometimes detectable
as a psychophysical compression/separation of similarities, as
in color and phoneme categorical perception [mostly innate],
and even (more subtly) as a result of sensorimotor training or
even verbal suggestion, in learned
categorical perception

14. Cohabitation/Complementarity

inside our heads there co
habit effects in both
directions: the sensorimotor interactions between the
objective shapes of our bodies and the objective
shapes of things and kinds in the world constrain the
shape of the subjective appearance of things and
kinds, and verbal communication

shapes and
kinds also influences the shape of their subjective
appearance and the kinds of things we do with and to

15. Collaboration/Cumulativity/Collectivity/Correctivity

it is clear that not all of this can transpire within
one head alone: both categories and their
subjective appearance are shaped by interactions
not only with the things in the world, but with the
sayings and doings of other categorizers


Harnad, Stevan (1982) Metaphor and Mental Duality, in Simon, T. and Scholes, R., Eds.
Language, mind and brain, pages pp. 189
211. Hillsdale NJ: Erlbaum.

Harnad, Stevan (1987) Category Induction and Representation, Chapter 18 of: Harnad, Stevan
(ed.) (1987) Categorical Perception: The Groundwork of Cognition . New York: Cambridge
University Press.

Harnad, Stevan (2001) Explaining the Mind: Problems, Problems. The Sciences 41:pp. 36

Harnad, Stevan (2003) Symbol
Grounding Problem, in Encyclopedia of Cognitive Science.
MacMillan: Nature Publishing Group.

Harnad, Stevan (2003) Categorical Perception, in Encyclopedia of Cognitive Science.
MacMillan: Nature Publishing Group.

Harnad, S. (2005) To Cognize is to Categorize: Cognition is Categorization. To appear in
Lefebvre C., & H. Cohen (Eds.) (2005) Handbook on Categorization. Elsevier